If It’s Wet, Sticky & Not Yours…Ask


Sticky FeetI don’t know how it works for boys, but if you’re an overly-ambitious female, you’re taught from an early age that it’s a lot easier to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission. It’s a small morsel shared with a knowing twinkle that gives young girls a license to be horrible. And I won’t lie – when it was shared with me, I ran with it. It made sense. If I actually ASKED to be allowed to do something, then I gave the other party a chance to say no. If I just did it and they got mad, well, that’s why God gave me dimples. That line of thought, though, does not work if you’re a business saying “sorry” to a customer. Businesses are generally not as cute (or forgivable) as young girls.

Larry Chase wrote a post on this last month that really stuck with me. He talks all about how being cavalier in business isn’t worth the potential consequences. Because you can’t just ask for forgiveness and expect the slate to be wiped clean. It’s a lesson that I wish more businesses and brands understood.

And customers won’t put up with it. It doesn’t matter if you say, “you’re sorry”. Their impression of you is that you’re a jerk. That you tried to take what wasn’t yours. And that you’re more concerned with yourself than the privacy or wants and needs of your users. That’s not a brand people are going to do business with. [You really should change that retweet feature, Twitter.]

If you’re still living by the “do now, apologize later” approach to business, then you’ve let this whole social media thing go right over your head. Your customers probably want to engage and talk to share with you…but you still have to ask their permission before making that assumption. They’d probably like your newsletter, but sign them up without their consent and you’ll see that hell hath no fury like a scorned socially-savvy consumer.

unruly kidYour customers are far more connected than they used to be. They’re more vocal. They know that you have people out there listening. So when you violate them by being cavalier about their needs, they get loud and tell their entire network. You haven’t just stolen the privacy of one person; you’ve stolen it from their 1,500 followers, as well. You don’t just have to apologize to one person; you have to apologize to the whole lot. Being seen apologizing 1,500 times  hurts your brand. It makes it undeniably weaker. Make it a habit and you won’t recover.

Stop acting like an unruly kindergartener. If it’s sticky, wet and not yours, don’t touch it. And if you want to touch it, ask for permission first. Today’s world is like direct marketing on steroids. Yeah, we’re all social and informal and friendly…but you still need to ask for permission before entering a room. You still need to build that relationship and prove to your customers that you’re worth their time. Spamming with a newsletter I never asked for so you can get out your marketing agenda will burn more bridges than it will build. You should just go sit in your time out chair now. Because no one wants to deal with you.

Why is it no longer easier to beg for forgiveness than to ask permission? Because social media is permission marketing. It’s the price of admission. Always having to say “you’re sorry” does nothing but destroy your brand and label you a bully in the eyes of your consumer.  Before you throw a rock through someone’s window, ask them if they wouldn’t mind opening up the door.

Your Comments

  • Matt Sullivan

    As a sales rep for a company that preaches permission/inbound marketing, I make sure to tailor each call around how a prospect contacted us. Luckily I’m in a role with a company where most people want to talk to me.
    The flip side of the coin is that savvy consumers need to expect a call when they do convert on a website. If you signed up for a free trial or demo, don’t complain on Twitter when someone from company X gives you a call.


    • Lisa Barone

      If I sign up for a free demo of your product, why does that opt me into a phone call from you? To follow up or to open the door for up-selling?

      • Matt Sullivan

        From my end: for both. At the very least, you should be understanding of a call. I make my calls with specific goals in mind: qualify you as a potential customer, answer your questions, and make sure you don’t leave the demo/trial thinking it’s a bad product because you didn’t know how to use it.

        • DavidBlizzard

          If a product is not intuitive then it is probably not a good candidate for a free trial/demo without free support. A call from a salesman does not equal support. If you don’t spell it out that you are going to make the sales call then you don’t have permission and that makes the call an intrusion. If you spelled it out then it’s fair game.

  • Aimee

    Great article! Generally speaking, you’re spot on.

    I wish that Verizon were susceptible to the hurt in business that any smaller company would feel from doing business as TERRIBLY as they dealt with me recently. And given the final word on the matter- since it could certainly not be called a Resolution- I highly doubt that I was the only victim. Or that I’ll be the last.

    So the rule seems to be: if you’re one of those we’re-too-big-to-fail-so-just-deal-with-it megacompanies, then you can get away with whatever you like. I wonder how we can change that trend?

    • Lisa Barone

      I don’t think the big dogs are going to be allowed to treat people like that forever. Or at least, I hope that’s not the case. Probably shouldn’t hold our breath that they’ll actually change though. They THINK they’re unshakable, which is a problem…and what will probably bring them down.

  • Michael D

    “Your customers are far more connected than they used to be. ” Amen to that. These “cavalier” marketing tactics are not foreign to businesses and are still far too common. We think we’ve come a long way from the days of Chamber of Commerce business mixers where people take liberty of marketing to you just because you showed up, but we get reminders in reality every time we get “spammed” after conferences, get added to newsletter lists, etc…

    I’d love a world of unicorns and cupcakes but don’t think we’ll ever see it when it comes to marketing. Fortunately folks like you are shouting out “how and why” ways to go about interacting with ones given community.

  • Tyler Adams

    Great post, Lisa! I agree with most of what you said. It’s definitely better to ask permission first rather than beg forgiveness later. However, we all make mistakes. It is important to apologize when we do and to do so publicly. In many instances, public apologies (esp via twitter) can strengthen and humanize a brand. I think people really just want to feel like they matter to the company/brand. A genuine apology can go a long way…

  • Scott

    Great post and great point! One thing that is even worse (practiced by one of the 800 pound gorillas in our industry) is to take the cavalier attitude and not apologize when the customers object.

    Sadly they proclaim themselves to be experts in nearly everything (including social media), yet deal with their customers cavalierly, with the “we know best” attitude you describe. When the customer complain, they scream loudly that they are the ones being injured, and that the customers should just learn to accept it.

    One day, I’m sure, it will come back to haunt them.

  • Data Entry Services

    Good, common sense business advice. Have manners and consideration.

  • Nathan Hangen

    You are absolutely right…I just can’t believe that people act like that. For instanced, I was amazed at some of them at bwe09.

    People actually sign others up for their list without asking? That’s just ignorant.

  • Alan Bleiweiss

    20th century marketing was all about push. Direct mail. TV advertising where the volume automatically gets louder than the show you’re watching. Unsolicited phone calls at dinner time. Door to door Sales. Loud and obnoxious radio ads by guys named Crazy Eddie.

    As we’re an evolving society, such intrusive behavior is, over time, and thanks to the interwebs, something that more people can speak up against, with ever more powerful voices, and in much larger numbers than the 20th century would have been able to track.

    Sales people and departments, divisions and companies are going to eventually have no choice but to hear the cry for permanent change. It’s still years away. Especially because so many 20th century minds run the show in so many places. Mark our words though, oh ye of little “permission marketing” savvy. Your days are numbered.

  • darren zapsky

    Take permission a step beyond the marketing, I knew a guy who once owned an Interactive agency, he would increase monthly billings with his own method of evergreen contracts, so if the contract ran out he would simply start billing the client again for the service. Talk about asking for forgiveness, too often he had to apologize for the “accidental” billing error and then try and explain why there was no work completed in return for the billings. Yeah, that business is now out of business.